Shell launches Starship demonstration vehicle

Shell’s Starship was launched at the annual meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council.

ATLANTA, Ga. – Shell Rotella has officially unveiled the Starship Project – a streamlined tractor-trailer designed to showcase energy savings that can be realized using technology available today.

“If an owner-operator built a super truck, what would it look like? It would look just like this,” said the AirFlow Truck Company’s Bob Sliwa, a former trucker and drag-racing enthusiast who produced the rig.

The look is undeniably futuristic, but under the hood is a commercially available 2017 Cummins X15 Efficiency six-cylinder engine generating 400 horsepower and 1,850 lb-ft of torque. That performance will be enhanced through downspeeding and a 2.5:1 differential ratio, realizing engine speeds as low as 850 rpm. And there’s an 18-speed automated manual transmission from Eaton.

“It’s 100% street legal,” Sliwa stressed.

Shell offered technical consultations on the engine and drivetrain components, and not surprisingly, the lubricants. The engine will run on low-viscosity FA-4 Shell Rotella T6 Ultra 5W30, while other lubricants on the vehicle will include Spirax S6 GXME 75W-80 transmission oil, Spirax S5 ADE 75W-80 differential oil, and Spirax S6 GME 40 wheel hub oil. The company is also providing Shell Rotella extended life coolant and diesel exhaust fluid.

“The entire drivetrain, engine, wheel hubs, axles, all using low-viscosity products. These low-viscosity products reduce drag while still providing the protection necessary so we get maximum component life,” said Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager for Shell Oil products.

But there are clearly unique design elements to be found.

The cab, hood, bumper, and side skirts have all been made of carbon fiber, and the customized wraparound windshield was designed specifically for this truck. A 5,000-watt solar array on top of the trailer, meanwhile, charges a 48-volt battery pack for accessories and hotel loads.

“We’re getting free energy from the sun,” Arcy says of the 15 solar panels.

The cab-in-white weighs less than 500 pounds.

Safety-related features include radar, stability control, disc brakes, and a 366-pound roll cage for the cab. The active front grille will also open only when necessary, improving potential air flow. And automatic tire inflation systems are installed on trailer axles and the tag axle. A Hyliion axle will capture kinetic energy as well.

Sliwa has built two other concept vehicles before, in 1983 and 2012. The most recent streamlined design ran coast to coast with a 65,000-pound gross vehicle weight, averaging 13.4 mpg (17.55 L/100 km).

It took 18,000 hours of work to produce the Starship, but Sliwa says it was based on his original drawings from 1987. He wouldn’t reveal the fuel economy he hopes to achieve this time around, although results will be confirmed by the North American Council of Freight Efficiency.

But success will be measured by more than the traditional approach to miles per gallon, says Arcy. The Starship’s demonstration will look at freight-ton efficiency – the amount of energy is needed to move a load from one location to another.

The truck begins a cross-country tour in May, beginning in California and ending in Florida, hauling a load of clean reef material.

“We believe that putting together a lot of technologies available today can make a material difference today,” says Megan Pino, Shell Rotella global brand manager. “Shell has a lot of initiatives globally in terms of sustainability. We really hope that this furthers the conversation.”

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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